It was one of those seemingly small stories that gets little attention but encapsulates so much of what is going wrong in this country:
U.S. researchers will soon abandon their search for the most coveted particle in high-energy physics because of a lack of funding.
Researchers working at Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory (Fermilab) in Batavia, Illinois, had wanted to run their 25-year-old atom smasher, the Tevatron, through 2014 in hopes of spotting the so-called Higgs boson before their European counterparts could discover it with their newer, more powerful atom smasher. But officials at the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), which funds Fermilab, informed lab officials this week that DOE cannot come up with the extra $35 million per year to keep the Tevatron going beyond September.
“Unfortunately, the current budgetary climate is very challenging and additional funding has not been identified. Therefore, ... operation of the Tevatron will end in [fiscal year 2011], as originally scheduled,” wrote William Brinkman, head of DOE's Office of Science, in a letter to Melvyn Shochet, chair of DOE's High Energy Physics Advisory Panel (HEPAP) and a physicist at the University of Chicago in Illinois.
If you were a rising superstar of particle physics, would you want to work in this country or somewhere else? Would you want to work in a country that can't find $35 million to search for "the most coveted particle in high-energy physics"? How can we claim to be the greatest nation on earth when we can't manage to fund the most cutting-edge science?
And speaking of challenging budgetary climates, and by way of contrast, even as news reports tout President Obama's intention to reduce spending on the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, that annual number will but drop to a paltry $159 billion. In the first three months of this fiscal year, the war in Afghanistan alone cost $4.3 billion a month. Which comes out to nearly $139 million a day. Which comes out to over $5.75 million an hour. Which means we've been spending more on the war in Afghanistan just over every six hours than is needed to continue searching for the most coveted particle in high-energy physics. For a year. Does this sound like a nation looking toward the future, or a nation in decline?